Smart bandage designed to detect infection

Researchers at the University of Rhode Island, USA, are developing a smart bandage that could detect and monitor infection in wounds.

The smart bandage held by tweezers. Photo by Negar Rahmani

The non-invasive method, created by URI assistant Professor Daniel Roxbury and former URI graduate student Mohammad Moein Safaee, involves embedding nanosensors in the fibres of a bandage. 

Roxbury explained that through single-walled carbon nanotubes within the bandage concentrations of hydrogen peroxide can be detected in order to identify an infection. Until now, using nanotubes has presented challenges of immobilising them in a biocompatible manner so that they stay sensitive to their surroundings, he added.

“The microfibres that encapsulate the carbon nanotubes accomplish both of these tasks,” Roxbury said. “The nanotubes do not leach from the material, yet they stay sensitive to hydrogen peroxide within the wounds.”

Designed to be used for diagnostic purposes, the ‘smart bandage’ will be monitored by a minituarised wearable device that can wirelessly (optically) detect the signal from the carbon nanotubes in the bandage.

The signal can then be transmitted to a smartphone-type device that can automatically alert the patient or health care provider.

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According to Roxbury, the team hopes that the device will hold potential to necessitate fewer antibiotics, and prevent drastic measures such as limb amputation, through earlier diagnosis. “We envision this being particularly useful in those with diabetes, where the management of chronic wounds is routine,” he said.

Safaee worked in Roxbury’s NanoBio Engineering Laboratory in the Fascitelli Center for Advanced Engineering to design the wearable technologies used for the project. He said that the process utilised ‘cutting-edge microscopes’ to study the structure of the materials produced, as well as a home-built near-infrared spectrometer to optimise the textiles’ optical features.

Next, the team will test the function of the bandages in a petri dish with live cultured cells that would be found in wounds — fibroplasts and macrophages (a type of white blood cell) that produce hydrogen peroxide in the presence of pathogenic bacteria, Roxbury said.

If successful, the team will move to ‘in vivo’ testing in mice. The testing has focused on small bandage samples so far, but Roxbury said that the technology will be most useful in large bandages and that there will be no limitation in terms of size.

A study on the technology, authored by Roxbury, Safaee and URI doctoral student Mitchell Gravely, is published in Advanced Functional Materials.